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UFC 121 Preview: Breaking Down Brock Lesnar Versus Cain Velasquez

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We are one day away from what might be the biggest UFC fight of the year: heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar taking on his toughest challenger yet. Cain Velasquez was a near legend in the sport's inner circles before he had ever made his UFC debut. For years we've heard Velasquez was the best fighter in the world - in the gym. Can he translate that to the cage against the sport's best? Will Lesnar show better form in his second fight after battling a potentially life altering illness? Both men are said to be coming into the fight in top form. As Velasquez coach Javier Mendez said, this is how it is supposed to be. It's the best against the best.

I'm of the opinion that fighting can be broken down into five categories, five areas that can decide the fight. Let's break down Lesnar and Velasquez to see who has the advantage going into the bout:

Wrestling: Velasquez has impeccable wrestling credentials. Twice an NCAA All American at Arizona State, Cain finished fifth in the nation his junior year and fourth in his senior year. He was also the National Junior College champion in his freshman year. Velasquez finished his NCAA career with a record of 86-15. It's rare for him to be in the cage with someone who has a better pedigree - but that's what's going to happen Saturday.

Lesnar was also twice an All American, finishing second to the New England Patriot's Stephen Neal in his junior year and winning the NCAA championship in his senior season at the University of Minnesota. Like Velasquez, Lesnar was a junior college champion. Lesnar finished his career with a 55-3 record.

In his short UFC career, Lesnar has never failed to take his opponent to the mat, although on some occasions it has taken several tries. Frank Mir, Heath Herring, Randy Couture, and Shane Carwin have all hit the mat at one time or another when face to face with Lesnar. I don't expect Velasquez to be any different. Advantage: Lesnar

Striking: Velasquez has finished seven of his eight fights and has shown a wide variety of striking technique. He attacks often and uses volume punching to swarm and overwhelm opponents, confident that his wrestling prowess will protect him from his opponent's shot. 

Lesnar, on the other hand, has shown rudimentary striking. He punches with power, as witnessed by his one punch knockdown of veteran Heath Herring in 2008. But when confronted by a powerful Shane Carwin attack, Lesnar showed he was still uncomfortable trading blows, cringing back to the cage rather than retreating in a way that gave him the opportunity to counter an incoming Carwin. This is one area Lesnar has potential to grow. Advantage:Velasquez

Grappling: This fight is unlikely to end by submission. Neither fighter has shown a penchant for offensive grappling. Like most wrestlers, their approach to submission has been mostly avoidance. Both, however, are well schooled and will look to end the fight if their opponent tires or is incoherent from a barrage of strikes. 

Where Lesnar shines on the ground is in his positioning. He controls his opponent's hips with a rare expertise and showed in the second Frank Mir fight that he can negate a jiu jitsu experts favored sweeps and submissions while continuing his own smothering attack. Advantage: Lesnar

Athleticism: Brock Lesnar says it best: there are no Brock Lesnars opponents can bring in to simulate the mammoth wrestler. Lesnar is enormous, strong as an ox, and moves like a cat. While Velasquez has incredible cardio and excellent quickness, Lesnar has outshined all of his opponents in this category. He's truly an amazing athlete. Advantage: Lesnar.

Intangibles: Intangibles can make or break a fighter. In this case, both have the financial resources for a cutting edge camp. While Lesnar relies on less experienced fighters to be his main training partners (fellow wrestlers like Jon Madsen and Cole Konrad) his trainer Marty Morgan isn't against bringing in a specialist like striker Pat Barry.

Velasquez trains with one of the best teams in the country. The American Kickboxing Academy is home to some of the sport's best fighters like Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck. But for this fight, they needed to import some Lesnar clones. Cain wrestled with Bobby Lashley, Olympian Daniel Cormier, and NCAA Champion Mark Ellis to prepare for Lesnar. While none are exact duplicates of the Minnesotan, it was a murder's row of wrestling talent. 

In the Octagon, Lesnar has faced stiffer competition. He's used to the championship atmosphere and the bright lights. For Velasquez, who has faced the likes of Cheick Kongo and Ben Rothwell instead of Couture and Mir, the distractions might be blinding.

Like the fight itself, this is an extremely close call. Advantage: Velasquez.

Overall, I think this is Lesnar's fight to lose. It will be an interesting contest, one that will come down to the takedown. If Lesnar can't get Velasquez to the mat, it's going to be a long night for the champion. If he does drop Velasquez immediately, it may be hard for the challenger to get to his feet. This is one of the most evenly matched fights of the year and should be one of the best. The fight is available tomorrow night on PPV and streaming at Yahoo Sports.


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